The Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (Association) applauds the passage the Agricultural Improvement Act of 2018 by Congress, also known as the 2018 Farm Bill (HR2). The Farm Bill is the single largest federal investment for conservation on private lands in the nation and is critical to state fish and wildlife agencies for conserving and improving millions of acres of habitat through voluntary efforts that can also provide opportunities for hunting and angling.
“We applaud and thank Chairman Roberts, Chairman Conaway, Ranking Member Stabenow, and Ranking Member Peterson for listening to the needs of farmers, ranchers, and the conservation community by working together to pass a Farm Bill that has a strong conservation title which is needed to conserve our natural resources while keeping working lands working,” said Ed Carter, President of the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies and Executive Director of Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency.
The 2014 Farm Bill expired September 30, 2018, and many provisions have been in a state of flux since then. The Senate and House Agriculture Committees spent much time this Congress listening to the needs of farmers, ranchers, forest landowners, and the wildlife conservation community to carefully craft and pass a conference report that is welcomed by many.
“This Farm Bill is extremely important for conservation – it provides much needed resources and policy improvements for private agricultural producers that are also a good fit with fish, wildlife, soil, and water conservation. Further, the conference report aligns well with the Association’s 2018 Farm Bill reauthorization priorities. We greatly appreciate the many long hours and deep dedication exhibited by our Members of Congress, their staffs, and the conservation organizations that helped make this Farm Bill a reality,” said Jim Douglas, Director of Nebraska Game and Parks Commission and chair of the Association’s Agriculture Conservation Committee.
“We look forward to enactment of this critical piece of legislation and rolling up our sleeves and getting to work with our partners at the US Department of Agriculture to craft rules for implementing the newly enacted provisions,” said Ron Regan Executive Director of the Association.
Notable conservation benefits provided in the 2018 Farm Bill include:
- The Conservation Reserve Program will provide contracts for 27 million acres of private land by 2023, allocating around $2 billion annually for farmers to remove environmentally sensitive land from their agricultural production to improve the land quality.
- The Agricultural Conservation Easement Program will provide $450 million per year (totaling $2.25 billion over five years) for financial assistance to help conserve agricultural lands and wetlands.
- The Voluntary Public Access - Habitat Improvement Program (VPA-HIP) will include $50 million total to enable state/tribal governments to increase public access to private lands for recreational opportunities and enhance fish/wildlife habitats.
- The Environmental Quality Incentives Program will allocate $9.2 billion over five years to allow agricultural producers to plan and implement conservation practices to improve soil, water, and fish and wildlife habitat.
- Through the Regional Conservation Partnership Program, which will provide $300 million annually ($1.5 billion total), the Natural Resources Conservation Service will help producers increase restoration and sustainable use of natural resources by implementing and maintaining conservation practices across landscapes.
- The Conservation Stewardship Program will allocate $3.9 billion over five years to help agricultural producers improve conservation systems.
- The bill also includes $75 million in mandatory funding to control and eradicate feral swine populations in the US and a provision to reduce the threat of catastrophic wildfires by renewing the insect and disease categorical exclusion and expanding its purpose to allow for expedited reduction of hazardous fuels.
- Additionally, the bill includes an important categorical exclusion for restoring and rehabilitating sagebrush habitat for the benefit of sage-grouse and mule deer.
One of the new priorities for USDA Agricultural Research and Extension is to provide grants to land grant colleges and universities that have established deer research programs for the purposes of treating, mitigating, or eliminating chronic wasting disease